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Clinton records: President feared 1994 losses

March 15, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bill Clinton worried in the summer of 1994 that Republicans were energized heading into the midterm congressional elections while his Democratic base was deflated. “There’s no organization, there’s no energy, there’s no anything out there,” Clinton said of his own party.

“They’re organized and they’re working,” the president observed of conservative activists, according to an August, 1994 transcript. “And our cultural base. ... They walked off.”

Clinton’s concerns turned out to be justified: In the wake of a failed health care reform effort led then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton , Republicans swept to power in the congressional elections, wresting control of the House of Representatives and Senate from the president’s party. The transcript was among 4,000 documents released Friday by the National Archives.

They’re just part of the roughly 30,000 pages expected to be released in coming weeks. The documents, which cover Clinton’s two presidential terms, are much anticipated in the political world, partly because Hillary Clinton is considering her own bid for the presidency in 2016.

The documents shed ample light on her husband’s administration, highlighting the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of aides, the stroking of allies and erstwhile opponents and the sting of the first Republican takeover of Congress in 40 years.

Clinton was in touch with the Republican surge more than two months before the November election, the newly released documents show.

“Basically you’ve got Republicans running like a house afire all over the country and running against me, and saying that Washington has too much government and taxes and too little morality. I mean, that’s their message. It ain’t so, but it’s what they’re selling,” Clinton vented to an unnamed aide, according to an Aug. 25, 1994, transcript. “And there’s no organization, there’s no energy, there’s no anything out there. And we’re out of position on this government rhetoric deal.”

By October 1994, Clinton advisers urged the president to put forward a reform agenda “to make government, Congress and the political system work.” As part of it, advisers suggested 14 Cabinet-level agencies could be condensed into seven: Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, Human Resources, Natural Resources and Economic Policy.

Clinton’s advisers also suggested a 25 percent cut in congressional staff, a congressional and presidential pay freeze and a constitutional amendment that would allow states to limit members of Congress to 12 years in office.

Days before the elections, four Clinton advisers wrote that the “public is now more disillusioned, more embittered, than it was in November 1992,” that the ”‘mad-as-hell’ atmosphere is not a flash in the pan, but a fireball in the night.”

The papers also provide examples of the outsized flattery that sometimes flies in all directions among power brokers.

In March 1993, a researcher told Clinton political director Rahm Emanuel, a future chief of staff to President Barack Obama and now Chicago’s mayor, that former House Speaker Tip O’Neill was “deeply touched” by a video tribute that Clinton had recorded for O’Neill’s birthday party. “He said Clinton may turn out to be the best President since FDR,” wrote communications researcher Carter Wilkie.


Associated Press writers Philip Elliott, Andrew Taylor, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Tom Raum and Bradley Klapper in Washington and Kelly Kissel and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.


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